Why do people think the election was stolen?

Supports of President Donald Trump holds signs during a demonstration outside the State Farm Arena where Fulton County has a voting counting operation, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Supports of President Donald Trump holds signs during a demonstration outside the State Farm Arena (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Let’s begin with the obvious. There is no evidence, not one jot, that any electoral fraud took place. To rephrase the title above, given the clearly established fact that the election was not stolen, why do so many people still buy into the idea over one month later, what exactly is going on here?

Does Confirmation Bias underpin The MAGA Narrative?

The easy answer is to perhaps conclude that the Trump base will buy whatever he is selling.

We know the human mind is awash with various cognitive biases, and so we can seriously consider the thought that confirmation bias is in play here. They are very emotionally committed to Trump. When faced with lots of information, we do all have a tendency to grasp the bits that confirm our pre-existing beliefs, and to discard anything that conflicts with that as false. When a belief is very deeply held, then the confirmation bias effect is at its greatest.

There is a problem here, there is nothing here for any confirmation bias tendency to grasp. We are not faced with conflicting evidence, instead we have none at all, absolutely nothing of any credible substance.

Tempting as this conclusion is, it just does not fully explain what we observe.

We do like easy answers

The election is an event that like 9/11 has rippled into the normal and washes away what so many had expected.

Various explanations are possible …

  • Biden really did win, the votes are real
  • People made mistakes and accidentally counted votes incorrectly and they are unaware that this happened
  • There has been electoral fraud

The third is an answer that many humans can easily embrace. It is a complete rejection of an outcome that brings fear, (unwarranted fear), and offers an explanation for it that very much plays to the existing belief.

The Enemy

There are clearly many other factors in play here.

For years, emotional buttons have been pressed. Fear of “them” has been reenforced over and over. This has happened to such an extent that the very idea of a Biden win has become intolerable, and has been escalated to an almost religious-like frenzy that it would be the end-times if it were to happen.

They have been presented with an enemy. The “deep state”, “The radical marxist left” … dark nefarious forces out to scupper all they value.

The Media

We have media outlets such as Fox News and others that promote this fiction as fact, and declare well-established fact to be fiction.

Yes, we have traditional mainstream media outlets who are not interested in political propaganda, but rather on the reporting of the verified details of events. But when in-group authority figures consistently and persistently demonise such reliable sources as “Fake News” and promote blatant political propaganda as “truth” you have in effect created a political cult that has emotionally ensnared many into believing many things that are simply not true at all.

The narrative is one that gives people meaning, a home, a group to be part of. It makes those inside feel important and that they have a part to play in history.

The demonisation of mainstream media isolates them from a flow of reliable information.

The preservation of a Cult

When a religious idea is challenged a common defence is for the idea is a retreat into the untestable and unverifiable.

Take for example the various claims of cures from Catholic Shrines. In times past miracles were popular and common. Over time as modern medicine has advanced in its ability to verify and test claims, the actual claims have retreated into the unverifiable cures such as back pain and similar. It tends to reach a balance where it is sufficient to convince those that believe, but is simply not enough for those looking for hard objective evidence.

In a similar manner, claims of electoral fraud have now retreated into the unverifiable. Claims that it is “the deep state” simply can’t be either verified or denied, and so anybody who believes is able to safely take the stance until somebody proves them wrong.

Because the “stolen election” narrative has migrated to the unverifiable, it becomes a safe haven for those that simply can’t come to terms with the election loss.

I suspect like many other culturally popular conspiracy theories, this one will still be around long after the Biden Presidency is over.

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